You may have noted the many celebrities who have been wearing a red thread around their left wrist, despite the fact that there is no basis for this usage in either the Kabbalah, Torah, or Jewish law.
The only mention of this usage is in an early Talmudic text called the Tosefta, where it is described as being used to ward off the evil eye, and some rabbis interpret it as a “segulah”, a protective act which is sometimes permitted. However, the Tosefta itself considers it akin to idolatry and a worthless superstitious practice, and actively prohibits it.
Others, however, are more sympathetic. The red string is thought to represent Rachael, Isaac’s wife. The name Rachael comes from the Hebrew word, “rachil”, which means lamb or sheep. As a sheep stands still while it is sheered (representing humility), so we are to humble ourselves before God like a lamb before its master. Also, in the same way that Rachael’s prayers for a child were answered, so too our prayers will be answered when we come before God with the proper spirit and humility.
The controversy surrounding the wearing of this red thread hasn’t stopped Madonna and a host of other celebrity practitioners form wearing it, or from practicing a form of Kabbalah that is estranged from the very Judaism that marks its essence. The rabbis felt that the study of Kabbalah separated from an understanding and practice of Halacha, Jewish law, could unhinge the mind and lead to madness.
The Talmud tells the story of four rabbis who met regularly to engage in mystical studies-Azzai, Ben Zoma, Elisha ben Abuyah, and Akiva. Azzai “looked and went mad [and] Ben Zoma died”. Elisha ben Abuyah became a heretic and left Judaism, and only Akiva “entered in peace and left in peace.” From this, the rabbis concluded that only married men over 40 well grounded in Torah and Talmud should study Kabbalah.
Modern followers of Kabbalah center around the controversial Kabbalah Center, established in 1965 in the United States, and is now located in Los Angeles. Complaints about this institution center around the sale of trinkets for extraordinary sums and a noted secrecy around its fundraising and expenditures, and its avoidance of the “stigma” of Judaism, while at the same time following orthodox customs like separation of men and women at Friday and Saturday Sabbath services, the wearing of sheitels (wigs), putting mezuzot (cylindrical objects containing a portion of Deuteronomy) on doorways and much more.
As we strive to find authenticity in our lives and behavior, and celebrities may be more needful of this than most, the red thread symbolizes the “thread of grace” that greets us every morning when we arise, and God renews our lives and that of the world one more time.